There’s been a bit of everything throughout the BAL Season 3, but unpredictability made it a season like no other.
From the so-called small teams beating Africa's heavyweights; the revelation of new talents; a sold-out BK Arena in the Final; and a reigning champion that saw their season cut short in the group phase, the 2023 BAL season reflected the growth of basketball on the continent.
Here are the five takeaways from the BAL Season 3.
NO SAFETY NET FOR ALL 12 TEAMS
A look back at the past 38 games of the season show that no matter how talent-riddled and wealthy a team can be, no-one was safe.
This was reflected in the way which the reigning champions US Monastir saw their season cut short in the final day of the Sahara Conference.
Playing in front of a rowdy home crowd, AS Douanes desperately needed a win to secure one of the four places for the 2023 BAL Finals but facing US Monastir seemed a dauting task.
But against the odds, AS Douanes not only outscored the Tunisian champions 76-60, they also finished second in the Conference.
And the most extraordinary event happened when Stade Malien, who entered the last day of the Conference in fifth place [out of the Playoff places], ended up being crowned the 2023 Sahara Conference champions.
Five teams – ABC, AS Douanes, REG, Stade Malien and US Monastir, all finished with a similar 3-2 record, but US Monastir registered the lowest point-differential (-7), and, as a result, were eliminated.
Surprising results continued throughout the Finals, where AS Douanes upset title contender Petro de Luanda in the Semi-Finals and Stade Malien finished third.
CONFERENCE WINNERS COME UP SHORT AGAIN IN THE PLAYOFFS
For the second straight season, Conference winners were unable to reach the BAL Final.
Back in 2022, Sahara Conference winners REG fell short in the quarterfinals, and Nile Conference winner Zamalek saw their season come to an end in the Semi-Finals.
The same feat was repeated when this year’s Conference winners Stade Malien (Sahara) and Petro de Luanda (Nile) saw their title aspirations titles cut short in the semis.
ALIOU DIARRA’S REMARKABLE DISPLAY
The Stade Malien standout may have missed out on the MVP award, but the 22-year-old performed like a real MVP.
The 6’9 center became the first player in the history of the BAL to record double-doubles in his eight games throughout the 2023 season.
He took home the Dikembe Mutombo Defensive Player award; He was named to the All-BAL Team and led all players in rebounds with 12.3 boards per game.
His average of 18.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, unquestionably, made Diarra the revelation of the season.
QUICK LEARNERS AL AHLY
One thing that Al Ahly learned from their Nile Conference’s 91-90 loss to Petro de Luanda was that they couldn’t afford to be careless in critical moments of the game if they were to win their first African title since clinching the 2016 FIBA Africa Champions Cup.
And they turned out quick learners throughout the Playoffs where they outscored home side REG, Stade Malien and AS Douanes to be crowned the 2023 BAL Champions.
Al Ahly’s success was extensive to Nuni Omot who was named MVP, and both, coach Agusti Bosch and forward Michael Fakuade who now form an elite list of two-time BAL winners alongside Souleyman Diabate.
FANS CONTINUE TO FILL BAL ARENAS
It’s not just celebrities, basketball scouts and former NBA players taking time to attend BAL games, fans from across the continent continue to make their presence felt across BAL arenas.
First, they showed up in big numbers to watch AS Douanes vs US Monastir at Dakar Arena before selling-out the BK Arena for the Final game between Al Ahly and AS Douanes.